August 30, 2001: East Timor holds first free election

East Timor holds first free election

Hundreds of thousands of East Timorese turned out in festive mood for their first free election, two years to the day after their vote to split from Indonesia unleashed a militia orgy of death and destruction. Turnout was an estimated 93 per cent based on reports from 145 of the 248 polling centres, said the United Nations chief electoral officer, Carlos Valenzuela. “People experienced the polling like a holiday. Election day was a very peaceful day.” The poll is a milestone on the road to nationhood for the impoverished territory, colonised for four centuries by Portugal and from 1975 by Indonesia. Almost 99 per cent of electors voted in the 1999 referendum, and close to 80 per cent chose to end 24 years of brutal Indonesian rule. Former independence guerrilla fighter Xanana Gusmao voted in his birthplace, the parched coastal town of Manatuto east of Dili. The likely future president stood in queue to vote in a school still being rebuilt, clutching his 11-month-old son.

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